Give paws for thought
Meditation gets a bad rap sometimes. People view it as being too woo-woo or out there, shutting down at the mere mention of words like mindfulness, Zen, or spirituality. And if you're one of those people, I get it. I used to be in that group, too. I considered meditation impractical and even a waste of time, despite having never really learned much about it.
Way back in 2013ish, I was invited to participate in a study about mindfulness for CF patients — geared toward improving mental health. I was somewhat skeptical at first, but I wasn't seeing a counselor at the time and thought I could use the mental makeover. So, I agreed to participate. The study lasted about eight weeks and included a one-hour phone meeting each week, plus some exercises to do on our own time.
I wish I remembered more about the specifics, but I remember the biggest takeaway.
It occurred one night during our weekly mindfulness call. I sat on the hardwood floor in the loft where Ramón and I lived. Noodle, the beagle girl we adopted in 2012, lay in my lap as I petted her. The facilitator asked us about moments of mindfulness we noticed during the week.
For me, many of those moments involved our dogs; in addition to Noodle, we had a French bulldog named Alfie. I enjoyed watching them wander around the loft, looking for a comfy place to rest or checking the kitchen floor for crumbs. They'd randomly do a hop, skip, or a jump, and I'd chuckle, wondering what was going on in their tiny minds.
I related my observation to the group, and the facilitator said there's research corroborating the notion that animals increase mindfulness. A quick Google search led me to a page on the CDC site that listed these proven benefits of pets:
decreased blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and symptoms of PTSD
increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities; better cognitive function in older adults; and more opportunities to socialize
My dogs pull me into the moment — the now. I love watching their little bodies move, their little mouths yawn, and their funny little faces. I find myself captivated, not really thinking about what or why, just observing. And that, my friends, is mindfulness — a type of meditation When we spend too much time living in the past, we experience unproductive emotions fueled by what’s already happened — feelings like regret, shame, guilt. When we spend too much time living in the future, we struggle with unresolvable hypotheticals — emotions like anxiety, fear, dread.
Noodle, Benny, and Magpie have been miracle workers the past few years, simply by being themselves — by living in the present moment.
I know many pet owners feel the same way about their animals. When I see people grieving their furry companions, I get it. It’s not just the loss of a pet. For many people, it’s symbolic of so much more; there's a missing source of presence.
Spend some time loving on your pets today — and every day you’re blessed to have them. And, if you’ve been considering adding to your family, now is the time.
Many shelters, including Lifeline Animal Project, are beyond capacity and in desperate need of foster and adoptive homes. Lives are at stake. Adoptions are only $23, and the benefits are proven.